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Undoubtedly, the big story of Survivor: South Pacific thus far has been Brandon and the manifestation of his various disturbing demons. Tonight, however, a quieter story seemed to be peeking out from under the weight of Brandon’s torturous internal struggles: Could this potentially be the season of Coach?

Go with me, here. After a rough start with his tribe, Coach has emerged as the clear leader. He has been fairly effective in challenges, despite his noted trouble with them in the past. He has also been surprisingly cogent, relying less on his wacky mantras and using far more logical thinking when it comes to strategy. Finally, he has shown a shocking amount of insight about Brandon’s personal struggles and seems to have a decent grasp on the dynamics of his tribe as a whole. Before, the moniker “Coach” was almost an ironic nickname, like calling a giant guy Tiny. Now, I can honestly see the man who could be a coach and have people feel comfortable calling him Coach.

This isn’t to say he’s going to coast to the end of the game on some sort of Rob Mariano-like blaze of glory. The game changes too often—and his past performances were too erratic—to make such bold claims. Still, there’s something different about him this season, and I wanted to note it before it gets lost again amidst the rubble of Brandon’s shattered psyche. Because man, that Brandon is a serious piece of work, huh?

If we can all be thankful for one thing this week, it’s that Brandon has moved on from creepily insulting Mikayla to creepily calling tribe meetings in the hopes everyone gangs up on her in his stead. This doesn’t work, because he is still the only person who has a grudge against her, and the entire scenario is just uncomfortable to watch. All Mikayla wanted to know was why he hates her (which he can’t tell her, for obvious reasons), and it leads to a giant, awkward situation for the entire tribe. This, after also revealing to them he’s a secret Hantz, puts Brandon high on the list of “total crazies we need to vote out pronto.” It would be easy to sympathize with Brandon, as his struggles are obviously something he deals with on a constant basis, but he presents these struggles in such an off-putting way it’s almost impossible to root for him. Upolu is starting to take notice their tribe might not be as stable with him in it, however, which will definitely be something to look out for.

Upolu doesn’t need to worry about Brandon too much this week, though, because Savaii loses the challenge and must vote someone out. The tribe is pretty set on getting rid of either Papa Bear or Cochran, perceiving them as the weakest. As the oldest member of the tribe, Papa Bear quickly becomes the prime target, and he knows it. He tries to trick them into thinking he found the idol (which Ozzy knows isn’t the truth, since he has it) and hoping this causes them to switch to voting Cochran instead. Cochran immediately points out that he could just be faking it, but it’s unsure who Savaii actually believes.

At Tribal, Papa Bear pretty much dominates the conversation. He rightly points out the alliance of five and correctly labels Cochran, Dawn, and himself as the outsiders. Jim tries to pretend this isn’t even remotely true, which is kind of pointless to protest. If you’re in an alliance with that much power, why not just admit it? It’s not like Cochran and Dawn are going to team up to vote the rest of them out at this point. Cochran, to his credit, mostly just sits back and lets Papa Bear hang himself, even when Jeff asks him a direct (and rude—what is up with Probst this season?) question. In the end, Papa Bear and his imaginary idol are sent to Redemption Island to slug it out with Christine in an attempt to stay in the game, and Cochran lives to fight another day.

Overall, this was not nearly as compelling an episode as last week's outing, but it still had enough to make it a fulfilling hour of Survivor. Seriously, though, how ‘bout that Coach?

Stray observations:

  • Bitter Christine won the Redemption Island duel and lives to be bitter another day. I doubt she’ll be much of a Matt-like threat, but it might be interesting to see how Coach reacts, considering her obvious hatred of him.
  • Why did Papa Bear vote Jim? If there was a chance they were splitting the votes between him and Cochran, shouldn’t he have thrown one Cochran’s way?
  • I liked how Ozzy wanted Keith to trust him, so he told him about the idol, only to immediately have Keith do the same thing to Whitney. How long until everyone knows Ozzy is holding?
  • “I was almost 150 percent sure Mikayla was going home. The plan backfired.”
  • “I’d rather make friends out here than a million dollars.” Stop it. Just stop.
  • “In his Biblical terms, he’d probably call her like the Whore of Babylon.”
  • “Cochran, are you a little defensive in life?” Perhaps Probst won the Emmy for "bitchiest reality host"?

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